It’s Time for Quick Takes on Wastewater News

Happy septic users, public urination foes, and new forms of restroom vandalism are in the news.

It’s Time for Quick Takes on Wastewater News

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Pumping and portable sanitation stories have been popping up a lot in the news recently. That can be a cause for either cheers or jeers. Here are my quick takes on recent headlines involving the wastewater industry:

We’ll keep our septic systems, thank you!

In Lucas County (Toledo), Ohio, residents in a rare area still utilizing septic systems are saying “no thanks” to an offer to extend the municipal sewer through their neighborhood. Septic systems serve only 7 percent of county homes, and county commissioners at first approved the sewer extension for 30 homes but then backed down when a majority of homeowners showed up to say they preferred to keep their septic systems.

My take: The health department was not aware of any failing septic systems in the neighborhood. So if residents up and down the proposed line want to keep their functioning septic systems, I say leave them be. It’s too often that municipal officials want to tap into new customers whether or not decentralized systems are effectively treating household wastewater. These citizens recognize it’s more cost-effective to hire pumping professionals to maintain septic systems than pay a huge hookup bill and monthly treatment charges. And governments need to learn that the big pipe isn’t always the best answer.

Drunken pumper: This could have been a disaster.

In Boston, New York, a pumper was arrested for aggravated driving while intoxicated after crashing his vacuum truck. Nobody was hurt, the tank remained intact and no septage was spilled. The driver’s blood alcohol level was measured at 0.25 percent, more than three times the legal limit, according to news accounts.

My take: We as an industry must take a zero-tolerance position when it comes to route drivers and alcohol. This was a particularly disturbing report — I can’t remember the last time I read about a pumper arrested for drunken driving. Thankfully it’s quite rare. Vacuum trucks filled with liquid loads and barreling down the highway are lethal weapons that must be handled with absolute sobriety. This guy turned the key and rolled away with wanton disregard for the safety of innocent motorists and pedestrians. This case offers a good opportunity for you to talk with your crew about the perils of drinking and driving and safe driving in general.

Stop hating on outdoor concert restrooms.

If recent concertgoer blog posts are to be believed, nobody would set foot in a portable restroom at outdoor music festivals. One recent example is from Taysha Murtaugh at, whose tips for music fans included this: “I’ve used many a concert port-a-potty, and not one of them has ever been equipped with toilet paper. Pack your own, plus some hand wipes or sanitizer for after!” Other more dramatic reviewers have said they’d rather hold it for 10 hours or run for the bushes before using a concert restroom.

My take: Bloggers seem to delight in dissing portable sanitation, exaggerating about the gross conditions they find at outdoor venues. First of all, I’m certain the majority of concert restrooms are well-serviced, and filthy conditions are more than likely caused by “user error” or a complete lack of respect for others. Unless you’re entering a VIP trailer, nobody is expecting to find an at-home experience in a portable restroom. But it’s most often acceptable. And bloggers who like to hate on restrooms should remember that from Woodstock to Lollapalooza, these huge events wouldn’t be logistically possible without pumpers.

Fighting public urination in Canada.

In Winnipeg, Manitoba, a bookstore owner says people have urinated outside of her business for 40 years. She tells Canada’s Global News the situation has been getting worse, and she hopes the city will build more of what are called pop-up bathrooms — permanent-type sidewalk restrooms — to address the problem. The woman says one patron recently “proceeded to pull her pants down and wanted to pee on our steps. My sister escorted her out, but she left a trail of urine on the carpet, which I had to clean.”

My take: Permanent facilities are one good answer to the growing problem of public urination in urban centers. But the bathrooms requiring plumbing and significant monitoring are expensive and take a lot of time for approval and construction. They are also targets for vandalism and those seeking privacy for drug use or other criminal activity. Cities should add traditional portable restrooms to their menu of solutions to reduce public urination and defecation. They are less expensive to maintain and easily moved to address current trouble spots, and cities will find excellent partners to service them in local restroom contractors.

Restroom vandalism takes on new forms.

In Vernon, New Jersey, a 6-year-old boy suffered chemical burns when he used a portable restroom that was pepper-sprayed by a vandal, according to a report in the New Jersey Herald. At the Yellowstone Club in Gallatin County, Montana, law enforcement officials found graffiti inside a construction site restroom that threatened a job-related shooting was going to happen. They investigated further and alerted construction crews to stay away on the day violence was threatened.

My take: Vandalism is a frustrating and constant issue for portable restroom contractors, and recent incidents show there are always new types of threats to deal with. The case of the child injured by pepper spray is a reminder that your technicians must wear protective gear while servicing restrooms. Power-washing a unit lathered in pepper spray would present a dangerous splashing threat for your crew. And the incident in Montana shows your alert team needs to contact authorities if they discover specific threats in the all-too-common graffiti messages.

Parking your food truck? Get a portable restroom.

The Ketchum, Idaho, City Council approved an ordinance for food trucks mandating a portable restroom and hand-wash station if there are no public bathrooms within 500 feet, the Idaho Mountain Express reports. The portable sanitation equipment has to be screened from public view. Officials say the ordinance and permits reflect the growing popularity of food trucks across the country.

My take: I don’t know how many food truck ordinances require the rolling restaurants to employ portable sanitation nearby. It doesn’t seem to be the case where I live. However, I would say it’s a good idea given the crowds a good food truck can attract. The next time you stop at your favorite taco truck for lunch, look around for a restroom and hand-wash station. If you don’t see them, start a conversation with the truck operator and city officials. But I wouldn’t suggest the requirement of screening for the unit and sink. They should be as visible as possible for users.


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